High school committee approves contract for renewable energy credits

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) school committee voted Tuesday to approve a 20-year contract to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) from Future Generation Wind (FGW) to reduce the school’s future electricity costs.

The net metering credits are associated with a wind turbine project FGW plans to construct on a cranberry farm owned by Keith Mann in Plymouth off Route 25. The project has already received state, federal, and local permits.

The school committee’s vote followed a brief presentation by Todd Bard, president of LEE Energy Group, whose company is paid by the developer to sell the RECs. The committee had agreed at its January meeting to put Mr. Bard on the February agenda, at the suggestion of school business administrator Amy Tierney, who was contacted on the school district’s behalf by him. In the interim, about six weeks ago, Ms. Tierney emailed the committee members a copy of the proposed contract to review.

At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Bard explained that renewable energy projects receive net metering credits for electricity produced that goes into the “grid.” By purchasing the RECs, the high school would receive credit on its electric bills, at a minimum savings of 20 percent and an estimated $3 million over the life of the contract.

Mr. Bard said the RECs are being sold to both public purchasers, such as the high school and other municipal entities, and private purchasers. Cronig’s Market has signed on as a private purchaser, he said, and he has had initial discussions with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital as another possible private purchaser. The Dukes County commissioners voted January 8 to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Future Generation Wind, but have not signed a contract.

The project will include four turbines, three on one side of the highway, and one on the other, constructed in bogs that are about 1,500 feet away from the nearest residents, Mr. Bard said.

“And the cranberries won’t complain,” Ms. Tierney added with a smile.

Mr. Bard said FGW hopes to start construction by the end of the year. Committee member Dan Cabot of West Tisbury asked him what would happen if the state changed its legislation and NSTAR was no longer required to buy energy produced by the wind turbines.

“NSTAR doesn’t buy the power, the ratepayers do,” Mr. Bard said, adding that he thought it highly unlikely the law would be changed.

Committee member Robert Lionette of Chilmark asked if the FGW project is a one-shot deal for the high school. Mr. Bard said it would be possible for the school district to take on another solar energy project down the road.

Mr. Bard noted that the developer has agreed to share his profits 50/50, which he said is unusual. “And if the discount rates fall below 20 percent, before the developer starts to recoup his money, you’ll get the lost savings returned to you,” he said.

In a phone call Wednesday, Ms. Tierney explained that the high school district would have a “tracking account,” to ensure it receives its minimum 20 percent savings.

“And if we don’t, the difference in what we didn’t get back in any given year would be provided to us in a future year,” she said. “Currently, the developers are projecting upwards of 27 percent.”

Ms. Tierney said she anticipates it will cost the school district between $2,000 to $3,000 to have the contract documents reviewed by legal counsel. Otherwise, there is no other cost involved with the project.

Ms. Tierney said the contract also includes a provision for discounted electricity for a new superintendent’s office building, now in the planning stages, that may be constructed later on the high school grounds.

In other business, the school committee voted to recertify the high school’s fiscal year 2015 budget, to reflect a decrease of $104,000 in health insurance costs. Ms. Tierney said the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group recently set health insurance rates for next year at an increase of 1.8 percent, rather than the eight percent anticipated and budgeted.

With the reduction in health insurance costs, Ms. Tierney said the high school’s FY15 total operating and capital budget is $18,546,250. She also recalculated the Island towns’ assessments at $15,269,407, an increase of 5.24 percent over last year, based on numbers for required minimum local contributions she received from the state in January.

No MOU

The school committee also voted not to sign an MOU with the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) for bus transportation. The MOU, initially proposed by UIRSD school committee chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, states that the district would not be held responsible for the cost of insurance deductibles in the event students from Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury were injured in an accident while riding on a UIRSD-owned bus. The cost would be passed on to their towns of residence.

“My concern is it could be another $5,000 we haven’t budgeted for,” committee member Priscilla Sylvia of Oak Bluffs said. “If the Up-Island Regional School District is really concerned about the $5,000 they’re going to lose, they’re the ones that should assume a gap insurance policy to cover it rather than throwing it on someone who hasn’t anticipated it.”

UIRSD committee members Dan Cabot and Robert Lionette voted against Ms. Sylvia’s motion to reject the MOU.

In other discussion, MVRHS accounts manager Mark Friedman noted that the high school took in more than $12,000 in ticket sales last weekend for the musical “Cats,” the highest total of receipts and attendance for any high school production to date. Several school committee members praised the students in the cast for their impressive performances. Principal Stephen Nixon also gave kudos to the music and theater departments for scrambling to schedule an additional matinee on Monday afternoon, and getting the word out, when Saturday night’s performance was canceled due to a snowstorm.

This month’s student spotlight featured senior Jackie Menton, who talked about her volunteer work with special education students, hospital patients, and Camp Jabberwocky, as well as her involvement in several community organizations.